Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

Stonewall for Beginners

There’s a Tagalog proverb that goes, “Kung hindi mo alam kung saan ka nanggaling, hindi mo alam kung saan ka makakarating.”

Translation?

“If you do not know where you come from, you do not know where you’re going.”

The first time I heard this, I thought, “What a ridiculous saying.” But the more I considered it, the more I realized the wisdom. Know your roots, the saying seems to imply. Remember that knowledge is power.

I learned of the incredible, spontaneous–viscerally and physically defiant–Stonewall riots nearly two decades ago, after I first came out. The coming out process is, of course, for many of us such an arduous, painful process that the history of all those who came before us is clouded by self-interest. How can a collective movement matter much when you’re struggling to your individual identity?

Once the door is opened, however, it’s important to recognize the past. That’s the best part of the Filipino proverb: How can you move forward, if you never look back?

The Stonewall Riots–and its defiant men and women–initiated a revolution. Pre-1969, homosexuality was illegal; the American Psychiatry Association categorized homosexuality as a mental disorder. The list of social injustices burdening lesbians and gay men were endless.

I’m excited to support the new documentary “Stonewall Uprising.” It contains black-and-white historical footage and interviews with the now-senior citizens who defied police, social scientists, and the political establishment; as one participant says, “It was the Rosa Parks moment.”

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Filed under: gay rights, history, , , , , , ,

Remembering the Sad Story of Emmett Till

A middle-aged African American woman steps up to a microphone in Mississippi in 1955. She says, “The whole trial was a farce.” The reporters gather around her, outside the Mississippi courthouse, crowding her, seeking more of her opinion. Was the brave woman and mother of Emmett Till surprised?

“I heard the sentence that I expected.”

The woman was Mamie Till Mobley. Her sad, utterly resigned comments came moments after the trial of two men found innocent in the murder of her 14 year-old son, Emmett Till. Why did Emmett matter?

An African American teen from Chicago is visiting relatives in Mississippi when he makes a fatal mistake. By whistling at a white woman in a grocery store, Emmett Till breaks the unwritten laws of the Jim Crow South. Three days later, two white men drag him from his bed and brutally murder him.

I’m watching PBS tonight; the documentary is “Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Movement.” (The excerpt above is from the documentary’s website.) Eyes on the Prize‘ historical footage, often black-and-white, often grainy, with antiquated recordings, remains as relevant and timely in 2010 as it was only decades ago. I’m riveted by these long-forgotten interviews and b-roll of legendary civil rights leaders like Mose Wright and, of course, Martin Luther King, Jr.

In the 50’s and 60’s, there were more than 500 lynchings in Missisippi alone. Emmett Till was only one of the innocent men lynched. It’s important to remember Till–not only because of his horrific death and the ugly racism it symbolized, but because his death was the catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement.

Like me, you may recognize the name of Emmett Till. But how many of us remember the unjust circumstances of his death?

Filed under: black history, racism, united states of america, , , , , , , , ,

Stephin Merritt: Lonely, Lovely Jester

Stephin Merritt is likely one of my favorite musicians of all time.

69 Love Songs? Quite possibly the best album–and album title–ever. Not to mention a wicked sense of playfulness and melody and exquisite humor in every song.

Future Bible Heroes? Merritt’s side project to his already fabulous band, The Magnetic Fields.

A sound bite from one of the interviewees for this new documentary about Merritt and The Magnetic Fields, Strange Powers: “There is some kind of perception of Stephen as the Grumpy of rock ‘n roll.” Enough said.

Can’t wait til this one hits the theatres in Boston.

Filed under: music, , , , , ,

Jacko’s “This is It” Opens Today

“This is It,” the documentary of Michael Jackson’s last tour rehearsals, opens today in major cities nationwide. I’m not gonna lie–I’m an unabashed devotee of Jackson and his music. As a kid growing up in the 80’s, his music impacted me despite racial, economic, and cultural differences. The CNN/AP footage above excerpts part of Jackson’s rehearsals for the tour.

When Jackson died this past summer, I was surprised by the reactions of my undergraduates. Where I mourned the passing of a great artist, my students–a generation younger than me–only saw a freak show. My students focused on Jackson’s baby-dangling, his extensive plastic surgery, and the scandals tied up in his Neverland ranch and inappropriate behavior with children.

michael-jackson-this-is-it-soundtrack

My young undergrads never experienced Michael Jackson when he first appeared on the pop music scene. Jackson, of course, was instrumental to teenagers in the 80’s because of his raw lyrics, his mainstream accessibility of African Americans, and his artistry (the man invented the Moonwalk, for heaven’s sake–who else can claim this kind of global trend?). I remember sitting in front of the television in Council Bluffs, Iowa, at the stroke of midnight for the world premiere of “Thriller” on MTV (back when MTV was a video music channel, not a reality TV vehicle). In my living room, after my bedtime, I was drawn into Jackson’s early pop-and-lock choreography and the grotesque, fascinating vision of Jackson’s zombie crew.

Pre-YouTube and pre-copycat-artists, the original “Thriller” video was a sight to see.

Filed under: film, music, , , , ,

Publications

BIOGRAPHY

RECENT PUBLICATIONS
» "Pinays," AGNI, Spring 2016
» "Dandy," Post Road, Spring 2015
» "Wrestlers," Fifth Wednesday, Spring 2014
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
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About Me

Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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